[Full story by Cortney Langley]
Being Muslim and Arab American themselves, both Duenya Hassan ’16 and Saif Fiaz ’17 thought they were in for an easy spring semester when they enrolled in “Arabs in America/America in Arabs.”
“I was like, ‘I got this. It’s going to be an easy class,’” said Fiaz, a biology major whose parents are Pakistani. “But I’ve learned a lot. I was surprised.”
Hassan, a government and gender, sexuality and women’s studies major whose parents are Palestinian, echoed Fiaz. “I didn’t think I’d learn as much as I have,” she said.
They attribute some of that learning to the style of the class taught by Stephen Sheehi, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at William & Mary. In addition to traditional class readings, essays and discussions, students must design and post multimedia blog entries integrating current events and issues with the class materials. The class materials are prescribed, but students can take off in any direction they choose as long as they relate it back to the material.
“They are encouraged to think in terms of multimedia, using written sources, videos, music, to explore what activists – not only intellectuals – are doing,” Sheehi said. “They explore the political conditions affecting the Arab-American experience and how Arab Americans answer those conditions, how they forge their own identities.”
The blog, “Arab American Tribe,” had Hassan and her classmates responding within days to the shooting deaths of a Jordanian couple – both graduate students – and the sister of the wife in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in Feburary. Their post examined the reluctance of the police and media to label the murders as a hate crime, in contrast to Muslims around the world.
“In class we were talking about racial hierarchies within the U.S. and how Arab Americans have had this process, according to Matthew Jacobson, of becoming white,” Hassan said. “The first Christian Arabs were able to assimilate, to integrate, and to receive many of the privileges the majority received. After 9/11, you see this flip. You have discrimination against Arabs, and, at this point, it doesn’t matter if they are Muslim or Christian, because it’s based primarily on physical appearance.
“In looking at this incident, we were trying to understand where Arab Americans fit into this racial hierarchy now, and because the media portrayed this as some lone incident, whether there are sentiments the public has about this issue.”
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